A small country boy from Kentucky, is now living a comfortable yet still very busy retiree life on Koh Samui -- Making subs and selling art.
For roughly 30 years, Joe Noble was in sales. He managed to take two small technology companies to a public offering. At Ixia, he grew a staff of eight to 600, and was a VP of a public company by the age of 32. Later he moved and took the fluorescent lights his company manufactured and got them placed in the two largest hardware store chains in the US, Home Depot and Lowes. From about 6 million dollars annually, he grew the company to over 20 million dollars annually.
For this motivated man, the journey to success was not always as easy as it seems. For a few years after he got a degree in Southern California, in the 70s, Joe felt his way around before realizing the electronics market was booming in California,. He decided to start his own sales rep company for big ticket items. “You exert the same amount of effort to sell a big ticket items, say a 20,000 dollar item, as a small ticket item, say 100 dollars,” explained Joe.
During the late 90s, Joe went back to sales for telecom test equipment. He was named VP (United States and Canada) of Ixia (a leading provider of performance test systems for IP-based infrastructure and services), then a start-up with 8 people. Working all over the world, under Joe’s wing, Ixia went public and is now operating in over 30 countries worldwide with annual sales of over 250 million USD. In 2008, he decided to move to Samui, where he had wisely purchased a house a few years earlier.
Joe stumbled upon an opportunity to build his own business through his friends. A friend, Marco Maki, urged him to start a Subway store along Lamai Beach Road, a very good location for a brand known the world over. He signed up for it and got on a rollercoaster ride. During his search for quality rattan chairs for the store’s patio, he came across a German artist based in Bangkok. Joe was mesmerized by the beauty of his works of art and decided to ship them to Samui, putting up another store just behind his Subway to sell these light sculptures.
The store Apollo 8, was set up like a gallery – with dark tiles, teak wood shelves, and Balinese chest boxes. The light sculptures, arranged on the shelves and on the floor, are a beauty to behold. The pieces are handmade in Indonesia, designs and moulds of which are provided by the German artist from Bangkok and executed by local villagers. The goods are then shipped in a container van to Samui. “I don’t know which pieces are coming in a shipment. I trust the impeccable taste of the artist in Bangkok,” confides Joe.
The light sculptures, exclusive and unique are made from a resin material. The color is either embedded in the resin, hand painted, or there is a covering of mosaic colored glass. The light sculptures come in over a hundred designs – torso, egg, vase, pumpkin, doughnut, and in the image of Buddha’s face, to name a few. Hanging lights are also popular. The sculptures come with a base or a stand made of a heavier material. Apollo 8’s classic line is their Tiffany-style mosaic glass laid over the resin by hand and mortared in place. They are truly exquisite.
Joe pointed that their manufacturing capability is very limited. This however means that all the light sculptures are almost exclusive. “No two lights are ever going to be the same, like all real art,” Said Joe.
Despite the expensive look of the light sculptures, prices are very reasonable. For example, an 80-centimeter torso glass sculpture is sold for only a little above Bt 9,000. The smaller pieces range from Bt 950 to Bt 4,000.
Joe Noble, the salesman that he still is, plans to bring Apollo 8 to New York City, where his son and daughter-in-law live; also on the drawing board is the business plan for Miami. “Maybe I can sell these pieces five to six times the price here.” Joe kids.
Despite being a retiree, Joe mans his Apollo 8 everyday, making sure that everything is okay. He is assisted by MJ, a Mongolian beauty who has fallen in love with Samui herself. Joe said he is as busy now as he was before he retired. He appreciates though the excitement he gets from these new ventures.
Asked to describe himself, Joe was quick to say: “I’m a maverick and I’m a little bit crazy.”
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